Until the first time I plunked my baby girl into the stroller so I could get the heck out of the house, I never realized that my sanity depended upon sidewalks. I pushed her to the grocery store with me to pick up milk. We went to the park, the library, pretty much anywhere the weather would allow and my feet would take us.
Along the way and over the years I’ve met some of my neighbors and gotten to know my neighborhood. I live in a fairly big town and I won’t pretend that I know everyone; I can’t even talk with a lot of my neighbors because I don’t speak Spanish and they don’t speak English. But I know how to wave and produce the oohing and ahhing that means, “Look at your baby boy! He’s gotten so much bigger,” and I understand the clucks and cooing I get in return that mean, “You have two now? Good for you!”
My husband and I have been doing some half-hearted house hunting, and I’ve noticed that a lot of the surrounding towns don’t have any sidewalks at all. I guess it’s a sign of the once rural now being commuter suburbs, but I think it’s a bad sign for America. In this time of childhood obesity and bowling alone, not having sidewalks seems like a national crime.
Sidewalks are the axis upon which our society turns, the arteries and veins through which we should travel, seeing everyone else and interacting with everyone else. Can we really have a civil society if I can’t walk the few blocks to your house without being run over? How can I teach my children to slow down and smell the roses if I have to strap them into a car to take them to a garden?
We’ve found untold riches on our street: the stone and cement wall our neighbors down the block put in has tiny figurines and coins from around the world embedded in it. The hedge in front of the funeral home has at least three large moth cocoons in it every fall. We know where the small black kitty lives, and when to go out walking to see the black and white Great Dane, the sad-eyed pit-bull who never barks while his beagle companion goes crazy, and the ultra-wrinkly Shar-pei.
I want my kids to see the world as a web of environments, overlapping and spreading out endlessly, not as a grid work of boxes connected by roads. I think the best way to teach them that is to set foot out the door, and to keep going.
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